NANAIMO — A critical new link added to the Nanaimo Airport schedule begins Friday, as direct service between the Harbour City and Toronto takes off.
An Air Canada Rouge 136-seat Airbus 319 will serve the seasonal route between June 22 and early October, providing round-trip flights four times a week — Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, leaving Nanaimo at 12:15 p.m.
Nanaimo Airport president and CEO Mike Hooper said it’s now up to the consumer to decide if the route will be a permanent part of Air Canada’s schedule beyond this summer.
“The air carriers will expand those routes, expand the services, add more flights to the destination, in this case Toronto, and then add routes to more locations into the future.”
Hooper said extra boarding lounge space has been established while crews build a permanent facility.
Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce president Kim Smythe called direct flights to Toronto a significant breakthrough.
“I think it’s going to speak volumes in Toronto that Air Canada knows the market well enough with the intelligence that they have to trust a flight to come out,” Smythe said.
He said the growth of not only Nanaimo, but areas to the north and south, have strengthened the Harbour City’s position as the mid-island’s capital hub.
He said numerous infrastructure upgrades at Nanaimo Airport leveraged the evolving Nanaimo market.
“When the airport made the commitment to seek funding to expand their runway, expand their infrastructure to be able to land bigger planes, this didn’t go unnoticed obviously by the big airlines.”
For decades, Nanaimo Airport was a small regional player, originally established in 1942 as a training base for World War II pilots.
Hooper said a runway extension completed in 2009 and improved landing reliability infrastructure represents just a few of the many critical upgrades made since 2006.
In 2013, WestJet began providing direct flights between Calgary and Nanaimo, which Hooper said recently saw more flights added.
Boosting the size of the passenger boarding lounge from 150 seats to 320 is slated to be complete in 2020,
Hooper said a record of more than 400,000 customers are expected to depart and land at Nanaimo Airport this year.